How much education do you need to defend a DWI case?

Last week I attended the annual Advanced DWI course sponsored by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Suprisingly, there were less than 200 lawyers there. While that's a good crowd for most seminars, I would hope for more considering how prevalent DWI's are, and how many lawyers handle them. If you even got one you probably know how many lawyers are out there, because you probably got deluged with letters following your arrest. There's no telling how much money is spent on advertsing and other types of promotion each by lawyers trying to solicit DWI cases.

So why do so many lawyers want DWI cases? One answer is there a lot of them. Another is that getting arrested for DWI is something that can happen to anyone - which means a lot of people with stable jobs and money to pay a lawyer. There is sadly another reason why so many lawyers pursue DWI cases - they think they are easy. If you failed either a breath test or a blood test you are as good as convicted, and might as well plead guilty. Many lawyers - especially those running DWI mills - do little more than look at the test results and read the offense reports.

Over the last several years many lawyers have recognized that you cannot properly your client without knowledge of the science the State is going to use to try and convict them. For too long, lawyers simply accepted the reports and conclusions of the state's experts, only to learn that it was not nearly as cut and dried as it appeared. While science is supposed to be objective, people are still people, and they are influenced by any number of factors, including expectations and biases. I've learned a tremendous amount over the last several years about not only the science in a number of different areas, but also the extraneous factors that can influence results. Much of that knowledge has caome as a result of joining the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and attending their conventions.

The analysis of blood and breath is far from the simple task that most people believe it to be. Lawyers have long known about issues with breath testing. However, blood testing was considered to be far more reliable. In fact, there are any number of things that can go wrong with a blood test - staring with the collection all the way up to the analysis. You cannot sucessfully defend a DWI case without knowing those issues, and what to look for.

Lawyers now have a number of opportunities to learn not only the law, but also the science. Much of last week was devoted to the science. In addition, TCDLA co-sponsors a program called Masterning Scientific Evidence, which is devoted to the science involved in DWI prosecutions. THe National Association off Criminal Defense Lawyers also regularly schedules programs, inlcuding and advanced course each year. There are also other programs, as well as resources you can go.

The answer to the question - how much education is enough - is that you cannot get enough education. You must continue to learn if you are going to become an effective advocate for your client. They deserve nothing less.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 30 years.
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